Tuesday, June 7, 2016

We Need Rules Because We Can't Trust Ourselves [they said]

A goat climbs on rocks, behind a sign that says "Please do not climb on rocks." Nobody tells this goat what to do. Image source.
Samantha Field has been reviewing the book "I Kissed Dating Goodbye," and you should totally read her posts. Really, you should always read Samantha Field- she has a lot of insightful things to say about fundamentalist and evangelical culture.

Here's a bit from one recent post on "I Kissed Dating Goodbye":
3. Establish Clear Guidelines

I found one bit of this entertaining. He tells us to “establish guidelines … that are based on the wisdom of God’s Word” (116). Apparently God’s Word (which means the Bible, not Jesus) can tell us “what constitutes a romantic setting” in 21st century America.

However, the actual problem with this section is that Joshua disguises what is blatantly legalism:
There are not hard and fast rules. These are issues of wisdom and will differ based on your age and spiritual maturity …

So I’ve created a policy about this issue: I will not go to a girl’s home if no one else is there … I don’t have to weigh the situation or pray about it–I already know that I won’t accept the invitation. (116-17)
I grew up among Christians who did this sort of thing all of the time. It’s not truly legalism if it only applies to you, personally. If you are personally convicted about a particular thing. We don’t make rules for everyone, just ourselves. Personally. And, anyway, the code is more what you’d call “guidelines” than actual rules.

However, Joshua does make it clear what’s so attractive about legalism in the first place: you don’t have to think. Making determinations about individual situations with all their complexities and nuance is difficult, so just make a rule for yourself and voilĂ  problem solved! Except … this is not very useful. In fact, my experience demonstrates that it’s damaging. Life doesn’t work this way, and being a person means tailoring your responses to the situation at hand. If you’re not allowed to do that, ever, then your emotional growth is being stunted.
I know exactly what she's talking about. In purity culture, we have to fear our own desires. We are taught that, given the right combination of circumstances, temptation will overtake us and we won't be able to control ourselves. And therefore, we have to make clear rules beforehand. Then when we're actually in a situation with "temptation", we have to just obey the rules, even if they seem unreasonable- of course we'll have a lot of reasons why we won't want to obey, of course we'll feel like the rules shouldn't really apply to that case, but that's because our minds are so thoroughly sinful. We're just trying to make excuses for our sin. We're listening to the lies that "temptation" tells us.

As an example, let's use the one Joshua Harris gave in that section of "I Kissed Dating Goodbye" quoted in Field's post: "I will not go to a girl’s home if no one else is there." Now, the reason for this rule is, if he is alone with a girl, who knows what might happen? What if temptation overcomes the two of them, and they accidentally do something horribly impure? Like kissing. Or having sex. See, purity culture teaches that we can't control ourselves. There are certain circumstances where the "temptation" is just too great, and it's almost impossible to not have sex. "Almost impossible" because of course it's still your fault, of course afterward, when you're trying to make sense of what happened, you will remember that there were parts where you could have and should have chosen differently. But really, it's your fault because you made the choice to be in that situation, which you knew could have strong temptation. If you go to the home of a boy you like, and then, somehow, you two end up having sex, it's not rape. It's just what happens when you're not careful with "temptation." You should have known better. It's your fault.

Which, oh dear god, what a horrible thing to believe and to teach. If that's not rape culture, I don't know what is. IN REALITY, people don't have sex "accidentally." If you had sex without choosing it, without your partner checking if you wanted it or not, and giving you the option to say no, then it's rape. It doesn't matter what kind of "temptation" situation you "put yourself in." It doesn't matter what you wear, or where you are, or if you've been drinking, or if it's someone that you're sexually attracted to- everybody has the ability to ask for consent and to not have sex with a non-consenting partner.

But in purity land, nope. We weren't taught about consent- we were taught that our bodies would just do it, and we wouldn't be able to stop them. I was actually shocked when I first started reading feminist blogs, and came across the idea that, even if a girl and boy are making out, the boy is perfectly capable of STOPPING and NOT HAVING SEX if the girl says she doesn't want to go farther. Yes. Feminists taught me that. Feminists taught me that men are NOT mindless, sex-driven animals. Purity culture taught me the opposite. The question of which of these ideologies "hates men" will be left as an exercise for the reader.

Let's get back to that rule about not going to a girl's house. I suppose we could extend it to say that you shouldn't go to the home of a member of the opposite sex, if it'll just be the two of you. (Because purity culture thinks that everyone is straight.) Now let's imagine how this rule would play out, in a practical sense.

Maybe I need to borrow something from someone my family knows from church, and I want to go pick it up on Saturday afternoon. However, at that time, the only person at their home will be a boy who's my age. Now, maybe I don't know him at all. Maybe I'm just going over to his home because my parents know his parents, and I'm going over to get whatever it is we're borrowing, to help out my parents. The rule says I can't go on Saturday afternoon, because it will just be me alone with a boy. What to do?

Well, I could think to myself, I don't know this boy at all. I'm definitely not attracted to him. He's just some random guy who has a set of lawn chairs that my parents need. Surely, one would think, I can drive over there and get the stuff without anything "impure" happening.

It seems like a case where I don't have to follow the rule. But how do I know I'm able to think clearly about this? Am I really correct in my estimation that there is no purity risk in this situation? Or is that just temptation, lying to me, and it seems right because I'm so sinful? Isn't it a little suspicious that I made this rule for myself, and I was so confident about it, and now suddenly when it's actually time to obey the rule, I'm making excuses for why it shouldn't apply? What's the point of having a rule in the first place if I'm just going to reason my way out of it like this?

See, purity culture teaches that we can't trust ourselves to make good decisions when it's actually time to make those decisions. We're so weak and easily swayed by temptation. Of course the sinful option is going to appear attractive. So, we have to make strict rules for ourselves beforehand. Then, when a situation arises, we have to stick to those rules no matter what. You can't deviate from them because common sense tells you to- that might just be your sinful heart! (And it's not just purity culture- this is true of EVERYTHING if you believe that people are "totally depraved.")

So it's surprising to me that Field says having so many rules and not allowing yourself to make a decision that takes into account your specific circumstances is a sign of emotional immaturity. Wow. She's absolutely right, but wow. I never thought of it that way before. Back then, I thought it was a sign of self-control and humility- see, I recognized that I couldn't be trusted while under the influence of "temptation", so I obediently stuck to the rules. Obeying even when it didn't make sense was the definition of faith. We were trusting that God knew what was best. Leaning not on our own understanding and all that.

But for real. We are capable of thinking for ourselves. We can trust ourselves. When we actually encounter a tricky situation, getting real information and using that to make a decision is not a sign that we are "biased" by "temptation."

I believe that people bear the image of God. Therefore, we are capable of thinking for ourselves, and we are supposed to think for ourselves. We have the capacity for wisdom and creativity to make good decisions, and that's how God intended it.

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